Christy Fera’s Day Planner: Help Others, Set Goals, Better the Environment
Insurance Agent and Owner of Agency with American Family Insurance
“I think the Lake of the Ozarks is an important part of my business.” I am president of the Lake of the Ozarks Watershed Alliance, a nonprofit and everything we do is centered on keeping the watershed clean which keeps the lake clean because the lake fuels our economy. Without that lake what would any of us do?”
- Environmental volunteer – check!
- Proud mother of a six-year-old – check!
Christy Fera opened her American Family Insurance office in Camdenton, Missouri in 2006 and she has been busy ever since. “It’s always been my goal (to receive the All-American Award),” she said. This is an American Family annual sales campaign for the top 20% of their U.S. agents who’ve met guidelines and achieved sales in a well-rounded portfolio of products. These noteworthy agents receive this industry recognition and an opportunity to travel such places as, Montreal, Disney World Orlando, Boston, Hawaii, San Francisco, Disneyland Anaheim and Miami Beach.
This is Christy’s tenth consecutive year receiving an All-American Award. Impressed? You should be.
“I think my favorite trip was actually to Banff, Canada. I went just with my dad. I never had the opportunity to do something like that in my life with my dad. We were able to mountain hike – hiking across the Continental Divide – we went white water rafting and were able to see glaciers and stay right inside the National Forest. She added, “It’s beautiful up there, except for the mosquitoes which were like horses.”
- Goal driven – check!
- 10 consecutive years as an All-American Agent – check!
Christy said she is competitive and does like to achieve. “The goal is always to be the best we can be and be among those best offices, those best businesses in Central Missouri. And my other goal always was to be an agent in the Hall of Fame. It was not always my goal to be a business owner but I love it.
“Our agency has been the top producer nine out of ten years as far as premium buying production for new business and that is from Jefferson City, Columbia and Lake of the Ozarks. There are 32 agents in Central Missouri and it’s nice to be the largest producer in this area as well as compared to agents around the country. That is very satisfying,” she added.
Soon to be celebrating her third year as an LXCouncil member, Christy believes “LXCouncil really fills a void for me in that if I’m having a problem in my business I can get some help and that’s what I like the most. Just having a place to bounce things off of is wonderful. Also, I met with Tina and I really liked Tina.”
Christy added, “LXCouncil is very good at what they do about getting information to business owners in a given area and getting that information in front of those businesses. I responded to an invitation I received to come to an LXCouncil presentation and I became a member in 2013.”
- American Family Insurance Hall of Famer – check!
- Foreign exchange school program volunteer – check!
Getting support from LXCouncil and from American Family Insurance is enabling Christy to behave differently in business. She plans to apply for opportunities such as expanding her branch location to a secondary location or acquiring a “book of business” from a retiring agent, to new recruitment and allowing promotion of existing employees or if appropriate, hire additional sales people.
“So yes, my behavior is changing and my business plan is changing where increasingly I will be in a management role of direct sales people rather than being a direct sales person. Acquiring a secondary location is a really big deal and really scary and it is changing my behavior. If ten more years go by and I have two large scale insurance offices, that would be great,” Christy said.
“When I say large scale I mean we have 4,000 policies. But it’s really the number of families we work with and serve that matters. I do enjoy helping people get what they need, that their needs are well taken care of and taken care of appropriately,” emphasized Christy.
- Grown from one to a team of seven – check!
- Enjoys helping others – check!
- Bright future, driven, conscientious – check! check! check!
Just Show Up! How Old School and Artistic Passion Click
Rob Minnick, CEO and President of Minnick’s Inc.
Having a passion that ignites at the age of five and continues to this day speaks volumes about Rob Minnick and the continued growth of his family-owned and operated business, Minnick’s Inc. of Laurel, Maryland, founded in 1954.
As a young boy with a dream, drive and a drum kit, Rob always knew he wanted to be a musician. After acceptance into the prestigious Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, California, Rob parlayed his talent and drive into living a “dream come true, incredible and amazing” but admits “it’s a challenge for a career path.”
Continuing Rob said, “I was living the dream and having a blast and then it was you know I can go home. I can probably rise up faster in the music scene. I have a family business there where I could actually have a job and make some income and I don’t have to deal with all this traffic and smog.”
But this really wasn’t a tough transformation from future rock star to regular hours and routine for Rob who began working for his family in 1982. “I was already in the business working from the bottom up but knew music was my passion. I was fortunate and able to do it (go to California) and pursue that because I didn’t want to regret it. Dad was very kind in letting me do that; he was very supportive.”
Still in his mid-thirties Rob kept performing gigs and would return to Minnick’s because his father provided an accommodating environment to keep up with his passion and to continue learning the family business.
In fact before Rob left for and came back from California, he was learning mechanical engineering for residential homes and really took a liking to that part of the business. He kept learning more and received numerous certifications which came in very handy when speaking with architects and builders.
“When I was starting to grow in learning, it was easy to explain to them because I was talking to a very inexperienced person. If you talk knowledgably, just like anything, they’re going to listen. If you try to pull the wool over their eyes and they get a hint of it you might as well forget it,” he added.
“Around 2005 I realized I’m in a family business and I have two younger brothers in the business. All of us were working in the field, each doing different things – me doing the mechanical engineering, another one concentrating on service and install – we’re all out in the field. I realized our dad is not getting any younger. One of us is going to have to come in here and learn the business.
“We had a meeting, my brothers declined and they looked at me and I said okay, I would love to do it which wasn’t hard to do. But then Rob asked, “Now what?”
Rob knew what his grandfather, who started the company and dropped out of school after the third grade, would say, “Just show up. Don’t think, how do you make it work, just show up.” “It was that old school mentality, you know just come in and do the right thing and do what you’ve got to do. And keep going, said Rob.
Rob said they had nothing put in place – no processes or anything. It was time for Rob to figure this out and he decided there must be something different than the status quo. Minnick’s belonged to associations and Rob went to a few meetings and conferences and he started to hear a lot of new thoughts. He asked his dad a bunch of questions but he had no idea what Rob was talking about.
It was Old School.
“I felt like it was something we needed and I kept searching until I finally met Tina. The knowledge expanded from there. I have known Tina since her days with The Alternative Board (TAB) and I was a member with her there,” Rob said.
These days Rob is a member of LXCouncil and as he continues to learn along with his other council members; he remains passionate about the family business and his music. With a nod to his grandfather and the Old School, not only does Rob show up but he can draw from a board of like-minded business owners and advisors.
Welcome to the New School.
The Accidental Entrepreneur
Take a young poet with a driving interest in science and technology add a degree in journalism/science writing and economics and you have a technology evangelist known in these parts as Eileen Quirk Baumann.
Eileen Quirk Baumann, President at Uncork-it Communications, Blacksburg Virginia
As the President of Uncork-it, Inc., previously known as The Right Word, in Blacksburg Virginia, Baumann has been a business owner for over 30 years. The marketing strategy Baumann and her team employs require dissecting the complex products or services of her clients and crafting a story with a powerful, concise message that reaches the right ears. It’s the perfect marriage of poetry and technology.
“I was a reluctant entrepreneur. I never had a goal to run and own a company. I never considered myself an entrepreneur,” Baumann said. But she considers joining LXCouncil “the smartest business move I ever made.”
She feels her “buddies on LXCouncil provide a posse of experts who have my back and know my business.”
Baumann continued that LXCouncil has helped her with some hiring decisions, in cultivating financial stability and reaching for greater success. “I was continually pushed and encouraged to reach out and get a line of credit when I had done everything conservatively. I was (and am) held accountable,” Baumann added.
“I know I’ve got a team behind me. Being a part of this (peer growth council) and seeing other companies taking the same risks, inspires me and gives me courage to move forward. Seeing others going through the same thing removes the fear,” she said.
Baumann changed the business from a consultancy to an agency model during the Great Recession. “I have always advised my clients that if you can invest in marketing during a recession, when everybody else is pulling back, you’ll come out of it stronger and faster, with better market share than those who don’t invest,” she said. This time, she decided to take her own advice, and started hiring permanent staff in Blacksburg. “I was fortunate to find fantastic talent and we have an incredible team,” she added.
“Recently, Uncork-it went through a phase where we grew really fast and outpaced our structure. These last two quarters, we began some shifting and now we are ready to go forth and conquer the next set of challenges. One reason I feel confident is because I’ve seen other people in my peer growth council do the same,” said Baumann.
In discussing her work, Baumann said, “We base everything on the message. It’s a puzzle we are trying to solve. In our marketing we try to understand the technology and the complicated messages and figure out what are the real goals of the company. What is their story? Who is their audience? Who needs to understand? Why?
“Today, you need an agile marketing philosophy – 20 yrs ago the ideas you would have come up with would have tested you, now you test them,” she said.
Baumann’s father also knew something about testing ideas, having worked on the computer simulations of the Apollo Missions in the 1960’s in support of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. A picture emerges of a girl taking cues from her father to fashion a life where her love of writing and science could coexist and coexist in business.
“My dad used to give me brochures about the Apollo Missions and I was fascinated. I think he tried to steer me into this direction combining science and writing. He told me ‘you could do this,’” Baumann added.
And if the last 31 years are any indication Baumann, whose career has ranged from interning at the American Heart Association to marketing DuPont’s engineering materials, has exceeded those expectations.
Real Insights – Brad Zell, a Man of Many Seasons
Read Brad’s experience with getting different perspectives on acquisition and partnerships.
- United States Naval Academy graduate
- Marine and nuclear engineer
- Submarine Officer
- Business development manager
- Executive MBA
- President of Vision4ce®, LLC
- LXCouncil member
Having challenges is part of a business owner’s life and Zell has had his share. He even established a board of advisors within his company to meet quarterly but organizing this himself hasn’t worked as he hoped. “The last couple of years have been pretty difficult. So we haven’t been very diligent about having the meetings.
“I was invited to an introductory meeting of LXCouncil and seeing an example of how things can work with peer advisors, following the LXCouncil format kind of appealed to me. I gave it a shot with the thought that I would try it out for the first two or three months and see how it went but what appealed most to me was that everyone was a business owner and we were roughly the same size.
“We’re all very different companies but we’re similar in size and ownership so many of the problems or challenges were similar. Because of our diverse backgrounds, solutions arrived from different experiences as well.” He found that even issues not yet on his company’s horizon have been experienced by other council members making them a valuable resource.
“There were two reasons that I was very interested in joining to see if I could benefit – one was that I am in a contentious relationship with one of my partner / supplier companies so there is some negotiation and some contractual issues that I have to resolve. I was looking forward to getting other people’s opinions and other people who had similar experiences or just they have a different business perspective and so that was good.
“Another opportunity is coming up – it’s a potential acquisition of a competitor and I am looking forward to getting advice from the council. The other thing that’s been really helpful is to hear about other business owners’ issues and how they wrestle with them and how LXCouncil group dynamics helped them.”
Zell cited one council member who changed course on their business approach. “It wasn’t that they didn’t have the approach, he added, it was the direction they were going.” They were considering multiple directions. They changed the direction they were going and selected the one that wasn’t thought to be the primary one because of the advice from the council.
Zell has had an interesting trajectory. As he tells it, he “worked his way down” after being with the Navy the defense contractor Raytheon and progressively smaller companies. “I was more entrepreneurial and always wanted to have my own company and I was frustrated by the processes and procedures of bigger organizations. I ended up starting a company and partnership with some folks in the UK.”
While at one of Zell’s earlier companies he pursued an executive MBA because, in working he thought he could do a better job running a company. Vision4ce®, LLC began operating in 2007. “The truth is it is a lot harder than I thought but for different reasons. Those guys were doing a poor job and there were some integrity issues but it’s a lot harder to run a business than I ever imagined but rewarding in a lot of ways.”
In partnership with the sister company in the UK, Vision4ce®, LTD sales doubled or performed better every year from 2007 to 2012. “2013 was flat. And then 2014 was really, really horrible and 2015 was kind of a year of recovery and 2016 looks pretty good,” Zell said.
“So in my case it was really helpful because in the process LXCouncil has – first questioning and then giving recommendations. It was very eye opening partly because the recommendations were very consistent from all the owners who all come from very different perspectives. They were different than I expected but they were consistent and it helped me to change the way I approached the situation. I still have to resolve it but it is not as urgent as I thought and I have time to work it right.”
“The other benefits to LXCouncil are we don’t do business with each other so the recommendations are from people outside your industry. They (business owners) don’t have a vested interest in the outcome except for being a participant and learning about it and providing some advice,” Zell said.
Zell wanted to engage other resources in terms of experts’ opinions to continue his company’s recovery and LXCouncil is working out to be a perfect fit. “I see after re-vamping and re-building that our potential is huge. Our company looks like it’s poised for some real growth and profitability, with a lot of hard work,” he added.
After all, working hard and knowing when to cultivate and yield to advice are not seasonal.
*This is the first in a series of LXCouncil profiles of its members.
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